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Mille Lacs Band slams county for ending law enforcement deal

A Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe police officer with a tribal citizen. Photo from Facebook

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians in Minnesota is denouncing local officials for terminating a law enforcement agreement without notice.

The tribe has been cooperating with Mille Lacs County on law enforcement issues since 1991. But that abruptly came to an end last week.

“This decision puts politics ahead of public safety,” Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin said in a press release on Wednesday.

According to the tribe and the county, the dispute stems from a long-running disagreement over the boundaries of the reservation. The tribe contends an 1855 treaty that set aside 61,000 acres for its use remains in force while the county only acknowledges about 4,000 acres.

The federal government reasserted jurisdiction over the larger area earlier this year after the tribe requested action under the Tribal Law and Order Act. The decision by the Department of Justice does not disturb the county's or the state's authority but it was enough to upset local officials, who voted on June 21 to end the agreement.

“As stated in the resolution, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s choices in the past year made it clear that tribal government prioritized tribal law over and above Minnesota law and its cooperative relationship with Mille Lacs County," county administrator Pat Oman said in a press release. "Given the circumstances, this was the only choice that Mille Lacs County could make to uphold the integrity of state law.”

The Solicitor of the Department of the Interior issued a legal opinion last November confirming the continued existence of the reservation. Congress must be clear if it intends to diminish a tribe's land base, the opinion reads.

"When viewed in light of the appropriate standard, the mixed and sometimes contradictory subsequent treatment of the reservation does not clearly and unequivocally demonstrate a congressional intent to disestablish or diminish the reservation," Solicitor Hillary Tompkins wrote.

In a unanimous decision favoring the Omaha Tribe, the U.S. Supreme Court in March confirmed that the intent of Congress remains the guiding standard in reservation boundary disputes.

Despite the lack of an agreement, both the tribe and the county say they will continue to provide law enforcement services. But the county claims tribal officers won't be able to enforce state laws.

Minnesota is a Public Law 280 state.

Get the Story:
Mille Lacs tribe, county at odds over law enforcement deal and boundaries (Minnesota Public Radio 6/30)
Mille Lacs Band opposed to Mille Lacs County decision to end law enforcement agreement ( 6/30)
County revokes policing agreement with Mille Lacs Band (The Princeton Union-Eagle 6/29)
County revokes law enforcement agreement with the Band (The Mille Lacs Messenger 6/29)

Some Opinions:
Melanie Benjamin: Chief Executive Responds to Revocation of Law Enforcement Agreement (Mille Lacs Band 6/29)
Vivian LaMoore: Shame on you Mille Lacs County Board (The Mille Lacs Messenger 6/29)

Department of the Interior Solicitor Opinion:
Opinion on the Boundaries of the Mille Lacs Reservation (November 20, 2015)

U.S. Supreme Court Decision:
Nebraska v. Parker (March 22, 2016)

Related Stories:
Mille Lacs Band hails return of federal jurisdiction on reservation (01/12)
Senate committee examines costs of substance abuse on tribes (07/30)